The Chicago Cubs began the offseason by getting rid of Chili Davis and hiring Anthony Iapoce as their new hitting coach. But there are many transactions still to be made this offseason involving Cubs hitters.
In hiring Anthony Iapoce from the Texas Rangers as the new hitting coach, the Cubs went back to what they know. Iapoce abides by a similar philosophy of launch angle like former hitting coach John Mallee did when he was with the Cubs.
The assumption among many is that Iapoce’s purpose is to bring back many of the Cubs hitters to their nature of hitting homers and scoring plenty of runs. In many cases, the Cubs saw decreased power numbers among their hitters and not many offensive improvements under Davis’ tutelage.
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Still, some of the Cubs young hitters may not get the chance to go back to their launch angle ways and increase their power; in a Cubs uniform, that is. Theo Epstein made it clear in his end-of-season press conference that changes were on the horizon, and it seems likely some Cubs hitters may be on the move. Epstein and the rest of the front office has a tall order: get this team back over the hump after a disappointing end to the 2018 season.
For Epstein, production over talent
Epstein’s long and informative press conference to close out the 2018 season left one striking remark in my mind:
"“It’s probably time to stop evaluating this in terms of talent and start evaluating in terms of production and do everything we can to produce offense.”"
This quote tells me that Epstein is ready to make changes to the roster based on the offensive struggles the Cubs faced at the end of 2018. The hitters who Epstein and others have seen as talented but haven’t produced could be gone before the 2019 season begins, even if it seems like Iapoce’s guidance could benefit them.
Who could be on the move?
So who could Epstein be referring to in his statement, and who might end up starting next season elsewhere?
Kyle Schwarber is one name that immediately comes to mind. Even after a tough 2017 season, Schwarber’s ISO was higher in 2017 than 2018, likely as a result of Davis’s hitting philosophies (In 2017, it was .256 compared to .229 in 2018).
Schwarber might be the most obvious current Cub who could benefit from Iapoce taking over. But will he even get the chance to? Schwarber is one whose talent has excited Epstein for a while, but there is a chance his lack of production could force Epstein to move him.
Another name that could apply is Ian Happ. Happ experienced a dramatic decrease in power in 2018. After his ISO was .261 in 2017, it plummeted all the way to .176 in 2018. Under Iapoce, Happ might be able to tap into his power capabilities more. But Happ, a former first-round draft pick, could also be one of the hitters Epstein sees talent in, but not enough production to keep him around.
Fair or not, Epstein made it clear: roster changes are going to be made before the 2019 season begins. Even though the Cubs have hired a new hitting coach to help get some of the Cubs hitters back to their winning ways, it doesn’t seem like Epstein will be willing to wait around any longer for some Cubs hitters to adapt, which means some of them may be on the trading block this offseason.